A comedian named Joe Zimmerman, said in a stand-up recently, that he doesn’t like scary movies because, “I don’t want to spend fourteen dollars for that bad feeling.” So many people are of a similar disposition and truthfully, I am one of them. Horror holds a very valuable place in my life, but I also equally value sleeping at night. That being said, here are ten of my favorite cozy horror book recommendations.
First, let’s define cozy horror: minimal gore, even fewer jump scares. Usually ends well and overall won’t stand in the corner of a dark bedroom while you sleep.
Gallows Hill: Darcy Coats
Length: 377 pages
The Hull family has owned their winery for generations. Won awards, stocked high value restaurants, and built themselves up as a household name. When owners Mr. and Mrs. Hull die the winery is left in the reluctant hands of their estranged daughter Margot.
The land once used to hang convicted criminals turned luxurious winery holds vague familiarity to Margot after her parents gave her up to the foster system when she was little. But a past she was never privy to might be back to claim what it believes is theirs, hanging the Hull legacy in the vineyards they keep.
I’ll be honest, I could make this entire list with only Darcy Coates novels. She is the blueprint for me in this sub-genre, I can’t recommend anything by her enough.
We Sold Our Souls: Grady Hendrix
Length: 337 pages
A dream of stardom, rock music, and booze. That is what awaited Kris Pulaski and her band as they began making a hedgeway in the music world. Going from small gigs to notoriety the band’s future is looking bright. That is, until Terry Hunt, the lead singer breaks off into a solo career with no warning, shooting into fame alone.
Dumbfounded and left behind the rest of the band are forced to mold into society the way no creative ever hopes to. Two decades later, surviving dead-end jobs and old fantasies Kris gets the slap of a lifetime that Terry may not have gotten the lucky break he seemed to.
Reuniting the band, Kris leads a search for Terry, ping-ponging from satanic rehab centers, to conspiracy theorists, to music festivals at Hells gate.
Grady Hendrix creates a book that oozes every bit of nineties rockstar nostalgia. Taking place primarily in the 90’s it plays with political themes of the time from satanic panic to rock and roll subcultures.
What Moves the Dead: T Kingfisher
Length: 165 pages
A mushroom-riddled Fall Of The House Usher retelling, following the voice of Alex Easton, a fallen soldier. When word comes that their dear friend Madeline Usher has been taken ill, Alex rushes to the crumbling estate of Usher to find a mansion held together by the grace of odd mushrooms, and pure spite. Sleepwalking, strange phrases, and a lake filled with something alive pull Easton is plunged into a world they aren’t prepared to handle.
Another author you can’t really go wrong within this sub-genre. With so few options that include queer voices, this book explores gender expectations and what it means to be alive within a body you can’t fully understand.
The Monster Of Eldenhaven: Jennifer Giesbrecht
Tucked into a tiny town forgotten by the world is a monster. At least he thinks that’s what he is. He can’t die and his heart is hard, but is that what a monster is? Thrust into the company of someone who might know a thing or two about monsters and about the secretive magic of the long past the two might be the exact recipe to burn down the world.
Okay, this one is a bit darker than most on this list. It’s slick like oil and explores dark themes concerning what it means to be alive and where lines between human and monster can blur. I would definitely check trigger warnings if you’re truly looking for something low anxiety, but it was quick and extremely imaginative, but not to the point of nightmares. This one also has good queer representation.
Anomaly Flats: Clayton Smith
Mallory Jenkins has questionable luck. When her car breaks down while going through a town of strange disposition, she has no choice but to stay the night. Though leaving might be harder when you accidentally release an evil clone of the town’s only scientist.
The Kirlian Frequency meets Welcome to Night Vale is the best way I can explain this one. Those two are also perfect for this list but I digress. This book is quirky and odd and so delightful.
Meddling Kids: Edgar Cantero
The Blyton summer detective club doesn’t sound familiar. That’s because it hasn’t been active since the teens that made up the club’s last case in 1977. Now the year is 1990 and everyone has scattered to the wind making the best and worst of adult life. When word gets out that a case the kid detectives solved might have caused the wrong man to be put behind bars, the gang comes back together in Zoinx River Valley Oregon for one last case.
I don’t need to reference it, I’m sure you caught the theme, but oh my god is this book good. It is a spoonful of nostalgia mixed with the worst reality check. If you remember my review of The Haunting of Hill House you’ll know I am a sucker for supernatural-induced PTSD stories and this is so perfect for the “what happened next” aspect of too much imagination.
Heart, Haunt, Havoc: Freydis Moon
Can someone explain to me what the next step is when the haunted house is too haunted for the exorcist? For Transgender exorcist Colin Hart this seems it might be the case during a job in Gideon Colorado. Amidst sleepless nights plagued by ghosts, memories, and all budding crush on non-binary client Bishop Martinez. Which will take him down first, a monster house or love?
This one had me kicking my feet and hiding my face. It is the perfect blend of spooky and cute. As I said Before there are so few queer options in horror, but more than that there is an even smaller pool of adult cozy horror written by people of color. As the world turns to change, this is a perfect starting point.
City Of Ghosts: Victoria Schwab
Age: Middle Grade
It’s an odd job seeing people others can’t, even more so when you meet someone else that can. For Cass, seeing ghosts has always just been. Some are nice, some are not, but when her new friend tells her of a ghost seer’s mission: to help souls to the other side of the veil, she has many questions wrapped up with a heaping helping of hesitation. All she knows is this one ghost is not very nice.
I will literally Gobble up anything by Victoria Schwab. Her writing is so atmospheric and layered heavily with the right level of spookiness.
Girl In The Lake: India Hill brown
Age: Middle Grade
Learning to swim is a high priority. For Celest’s family it is not a want, but a need to learn the basics of swimming. Her grandparents themselves growing up during a time of segregation and enduring personal tragedy they take it upon themselves to ensure her education. Best way? Bring her to their lakehouse for the summer with her brother and cousins. This would be exciting if it wasn’t the same lakehouse that her great aunt drowned at. Over the course of her stay, strange things begin to happen that Celeste can’t explain.
Again, trigger warning check, but this one hit a lot of boxes for me. It’s atmospheric, discusses really good topics, and holds a place for sentimentality.
The Graveyard: Neil Gaiman
Age: Middle Grade
Nobody Owens (Bod) has a little adventure in his life. That is unless you count the fact that he lives in a graveyard and gets all his education from lingering souls plotted beneath headstone. Despite his spooky upbringing Bod may come to learn the dead are more fun than the living.
This is such a cute book. It follows a very similar beat to Coraline by feeling light and airy in some parts and damp and suffocating in others. Plus the idea of being raised by ghosts is so spooky and adorable.